I might as well say right now that if you are looking for a straight adaption of the Frankenstein story, you are in the wrong place. Being someone who has read the book outside of literature classes, this film never really follows the original tale at all. In fact, it actually improves the tale. In the original novel, there was quite a few times in which the feel of Shelly being the immature writer (not having that must experience in writing) was very overpowering. But taking the script for a stage play adaption of the novel (just like with Dracula), what we get is probably one of the best telling of Man's attempt to be God.
The story we all know by heart: screwed up doctor tries to play God by making man. But what a lot of people don't do is really look at the film for this film is not about Dr. Frankenstein (yeah people: the doctor is named Frankenstein. Not the monster. GET IT BLOODY RIGHT!), but about the symbolism of The Monster. One thing you tend to notice about the classic horror stories is the symbolism each of the monsters stand for. Dracula stood for depression (being alone for centuries). The Wolf Man for a woman's period (watch the film, and you will get why I even say that). The Creature Of The Black Lagoon for puberty (a hideous man trying to win the heart of a gorgeous woman). With Frankenstein, the symbolism is being unaccepted. Once The Monster is free from Frankenstein, it tries to be part of society and be accepted. But due to him literally having the brain of a mass murderer (damn you, Fritz!), he can't help himself and like most misunderstood people, he is hated by everyone. Even his maker. That is why James Whale's adaption strikes such a strong chord with people: it is all about a person that no one understands. No one gets. And Whale shows this perfectly in his flawless direction. He shows this while still providing the morality tale of Man trying to be God and the end results.
There are only two people that need mentioning in this film in terms of acting: Boris Karloff and Dwight Frye. First off with Karloff. Like most people, they have to credit this film to him. He seriously sells this film with his timeless portrayal as The Monster. I honestly do not know how to do this review justice. This is one of those performances that just speaks for itself. Everything from the way he moves to his grunts. I am not going to review that performance. All I will say: it is legendary for a reason. I love Dwight Frye. I adore this man's ability to act. In Dracula, I liked how he played a sane man and then turned into an insane maniac while swapping back and forth. Here I love how he plays a mentally disturbed assistant that, in my observation, might have a deeper meaning. Okay, bare with me for a bit. It is known that James Whale was openly homosexual and in his films there are some undertones that suggest his sexuality. With Frankenstein, my believe is that Fritz became jealous of The Monster's relationship with Frankenstein and as such why he has such a strong hatred for the Monster. It is all about jealousy and the feeling that you are going to be replaced by someone you have grown to love. I believe that Frye used that to his advantage and helped to create this hunched back maniac. Brilliant.
The rest of the actors (mainly Colin Clive and Edward Van Sloan) do their characters justice in bringing them all to life. But none of their performances actually stand out to me in this film. Hence why I won't go into detail about their acting.
When I decided to review there classic horror films, I had to go and see if their horror still lives up. Like with Dracula (and I am guessing like with the rest), it does not. But as a drama and a tale of man's desire to be God, this film lives on for a reason. I have seen numerous adaptions of this tale, and while as an adaption this is terrible, as a film it works. Even 80 years after it's release. So, why only four and a half stars? Simple: While it did touch me in the way that I could relate to the monster, I would have liked it if they expanded on the characters a bit more.